Behold, your mother: Our Lady of Lourdes
This is part of our 2023 “Behold, your mother” series, which will feature a different personage of Mary each month. Search the “Mary” filter on the blog to find the whole series. Read to the end of this blog post for a gift from us to you this year!
Entrusting those with the least
When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she chose the poorest, least educated child in the whole town to carry her message of love, forgiveness and healing to the world. Bernadette herself said that if Our Lady could have found a poorer or more stupid person in Lourdes then she would surely have appeared to them.
In the readings for the Mass of St. Bernadette we hear the words of Jesus when He said: “I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25) It seems that Our Lady was very much following her Son’s lead in trusting those the world saw as “less” with the great mysteries of salvation.
When we feel “less”
When struggling with infertility – especially as a Catholic, when avenues open to help others to conceive are closed to us – it’s easy for us to feel less. Less of a wife, less of a daughter, sister, aunt… less of a Catholic. So, what does Our Lady of Lourdes, the Mother given to each of us by her Son Jesus with the words “Behold, your mother”, have to say to us when we feel less?
I’m incredibly blessed to have been able to travel to Lourdes annually for over 30 years, both as a helper and, more recently, a pilgrimage organiser. During this time I have brought a variety of different challenges to Our Lady of Lourdes: at age 19, the loss of my mum, and later my dad, job challenges, relationship (platonic, family and romantic) breakdown, unemployment, mental health issues, ill health and then, following my marriage, the scourge of infertility and a resulting hysterectomy.
In each of these circumstances, her role as my mother felt so profound and one particular message she gave to St. Bernadette spoke powerfully to me.
Not the happiness of this world
At the third apparition on 18th February 1858, she spoke to Bernadette in her own dialect (as Bernadette was not educated enough to speak French) and told her: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other/next.” More recent translations suggest that her words may have been closer to “I do not promise you the happiness of this world, but of the next.” I see it as a subtle but important difference.
The world will tell us that happiness is whatever we decide it is. If, as I did, we assume that we will get married and have children and that will make us happy, continuing to live in the world without the experience we believed would bring us deep joy can feel impossible.
Credit: Artwork belongs to First Saturday Shop
Not a joyless life
Like every good mother, Our Lady wants the best for her children and she knows that, sometimes, what’s best for us lies elsewhere. Which isn’t to say that we will never experience joy or happiness on earth – just that a greater happiness awaits us. I have been amazed, in fact, over the last few years at how I have been able to experience profound joy and happiness, despite living with the dreadful effects of infertility and all that it brings. Journeying with candidates through RCIA, seeing friends come to faith, seeing Lourdes through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time and seeing it change their lives, weddings of those I love and, yes, even the birth of their children.
Sometimes I will feel that familiar pang of something – or someone – being missing, but often the happiness is pure. So, what is this happiness of the next world that Our Lady assures St. Bernadette and, by extraction us, of?
“When you get to heaven…”
I feel like I got my answer recently at the funeral of a great friend. People had travelled from far and wide to pay their respects to a wonderful man who truly deserved it. As is often the case, we were able to reacquaint ourselves with friends we had lost touch with over the years. One of these was Christine, a beautiful and gentle French woman who we had become friends with through our Youth 2000 prayer group. My husband, Mart, was updating her on our life – the struggles we had faced with bereavement, fertility, multiple surgeries and eventually my hysterectomy.
Always a thoughtful and considered speaker, she took a moment and I could hear her smile as she said “When you get to heaven, you’ll be so amazed to see the fruits of your sacrifice and prayer.” I was driving at the time and probably shouldn’t have been! I was stunned by her beautiful way of bringing Our Lady’s promise alive for me.
Our suffering has a purpose
Of course, the happiness of the next world will be the utter joy of being in the presence of God, Mother Mary, the saints and deceased members of our families and friends forever. What this friend unknowingly opened up for me with those precious words was an additional happiness – that we will witness the people and circumstances that were able to benefit from the salvific nature of our suffering. This is one of the Church’s greatest treasures of teaching. Our suffering isn’t without value or purpose, we can use it for the benefit of others. No-one knew that more than Our Lady – what a great privilege it is then to learn from and model purposeful suffering from our Mother.
The draw of the world is so strong, it can feel overwhelming. Standing in opposition to it or not giving in to its attraction can be difficult and frightening. Reminding ourselves that we are called to be “in the world but not of it” and of the “happiness of the next world” that awaits us can help us navigate our way towards our true home where Our Lady, our true Mother, waits to welcome us and present us to her Son.
Our Lady of Lourdes,
You didn’t promise St. Bernadette the happiness of this world but of the next. Help us to take this promise to our own hearts.
Be with us in the struggles of this world as we try to keep our focus on the next and when the struggle becomes too much, helps us to pray the great prayer of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “Mary, be a mother to me now.”
“Behold, your mother” prayer cards
“Behold, your mother” is a series of blog posts throughout 2023 exploring different titles and personages of Mary and how we can let her mother us. We are collaborating with a beautiful Catholic creator, First Saturday Shop, to bring you a prayer card with each post in this series.
To receive a free printable version of the prayer cards, subscribe to our email list and receive the download link by email each month. Artwork belongs to First Saturday Shop and is emailed for domestic printing as a prayer aid.
To see more Catholic artwork and prayer aids, go to First Saturday Shop (international shipping available).